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conclusion is perfectly just; 'tis not only the dress, but the ideas, i. e. the sense,' which would be outraged by the introduction he imagines. It is, perhaps, this passage, together with. one written in early youth, advocating the language of Shakspeare for tragedy, rather than that of Addison, where he saysThe language of the age is never the language of poetry, ex'cept among the French, whose verse, where the thought or image 'does not support it, differs in nothing from prose. Our poetry, on the contrary, has a language peculiar to itself,'—which has induced Wordsworth to rank Gray at the head of those who, by their reasonings, have attempted to widen the space of separation betwixt prose and metrical composition. Gray's example, we firmly believe, tended to bring the language of poetry nearer to nature; but his mind was not, we think, suited for abstract reasoning; therefore we should always know the subject that prompted his arguments, and then we shall not find him. mistaken. His verbal criticism is all on the side of simplicity. When he takes Mason's words and sentences piecemeal, and appends such comments on them; "To" moral excellence," a remnant of the bad books you read at Cambridge; so is "the dignity of man" "There is too much of the Muse here;" and again, "I do not much care for any Muse at all here;' Cull living garlands,' &c.; Too verbose; I insist that "deigns" (though it be a rhyme) should be "deign'st;" and "fills," "fill'st;" and "bid," "bid'st;" do not blame me, but the English tongue. I do not like "meandering way;" nor the word "sprite," &c. &c.;-his criticism is all on the side of common sense, though his ear is quick in detecting prosaic, unmusical, and flat expression.
In his own poetry we find no attempt to veil common thoughts in an ambitious phraseology; and noble, or deep, or meditative thoughts naturally, and of necessity, assume appropriate and, therefore, not common language. There are passages in Gray as simple as anything Wordsworth ever wrote; take that stanza in his Ode to Vicissitude,' where he gives us, no doubt, his own experience:
'See the wretch who long has tost
On the thorny bed of pain,
At length repair his vigour lost,
The meanest floweret of the vale,
The simplest note that swells the gale,
The common sun, the air, the skies,
To him are opening paradise!
Or that sweetest of rejected stanzas, which he struck out of the Elegy, for fear, as it is said, of making too long a parenthesis, but we suspect, because he might well imagine the subject, though
dear to himself (as being the real accompaniments of a favourite and most familiar scene), too common and undignified for the taste of that day:
'There scatter'd oft, the earliest of the year,
By hands unseen, are showers of violets found;
But without forcing points of resemblance between poets who have their different claims to our regard and affection, and though we must allow that the style and taste of one is more ornate than the other, yet we would both assert that Gray was, in his day-as Wordsworth in a later a refiner and simplifier of our language, and that he had this in common with Wordsworth, that nothing in his poetry is the fruit of a transient or assumed feeling. With both, their poetry is a transcript of their lives; and both wrote neither more nor less than what they meant. The study of Gray's life is valuable, if but for this end, that it raises our respect for his poetry. What a comment, for instance, is his love of learning, and the variety of his pursuits, upon his Elegy! The ample page' of knowledge and the spoils of time' were ever open, and ever sought out by him. This thirst it was which made him feel so intensely, and therefore describe with such pathos, the privations of ignorance; and dwell upon that dispensation of Providence which withholds from so large a portion of the human race the full cultivation of their powers: while the humility which belongs to true learning leads him to vindicate the real equality of man in the midst of the widest external differences, reminding him and us that circumstances alone make him to differ from the most untaught. Every allusion gains a fuller meaning, when we know that no art, no pursuit, no feature of nature is touched upon, but it has engaged the full powers of his mind; and are made to observe that the felicity of an epithet, or a description, is no new idea or lucky hit, but part of himself, the bloom and flower of his daily thoughts. It may be doubted whether any description in poetry can take strong and lasting hold of the popular mind, unless it is the fruit of this observation and knowledge; perhaps it is only the maturity of a thought that can give true grace and expression to language, and that every exquisite line is so much experience. Something of this kind must be true, though it is owned that time alone distinguishes the real from the counterfeit; winnows away the slight volatile creations of the hour from these little epitomes of the poet's existence, which last for ever; and shows, too, where knowledge prompted the description, or where only a momentary effort of fancy.
Certainly we cannot at first sight see why it needed a knowledge of Gothic architecture to describe merely its most obvious beauties felicitously,
The long drawn aisle and fretted vault;'
nor a musician, to sing,
Now the rich strain of music winds along,
Deep, majestic, smooth and strong;'
nor why it required a sympathy with the science of heraldry to define its pretensions so justly as the Boast of Heraldry;' nor why a man must have mused in a churchyard for months or years to picture so accurately its surface,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap ;'
nor that a man should have made natural history an ardent study before he can characterise trees, birds, and insects by leading, most easily discerned features; as where
'The beetle wheels his droning flight;'
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed;'
'The nodding beech,
That wreathes its old fantastic roots so high;'
that he must have meditated upon owls, feathered and human, before he could arrive at that bird's just epithet, and impress us duly with her long dominion,
The moping owl,'
Her 'secret bower,' and 'ancient solitary reign;'
that he must have been a botanist from the age of fifteen, and all his life keep a floral calendar, to regret so keenly that—
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen.'
The truth is, that the question of epithets (for the use of which we were all taught in our youth that Gray was distinguished) is not one of the poet's invention, but of his knowledge and experience; they describe the atmosphere through which he sees things, and his habitual view of them; and show how much keener are the impressions on his senses, and how far more vivid these operations on the thinking faculty, than on those of common men and to leave them to be supplied afterwards, simply proves that the poet is not possessed by his theme as he ought to be, and that he does not see it in a light that differs from other men's. No one can conceive the Elegy to have been composed on this plan; on the contrary, the adjective epithets, i.e. the conditions of the scene, were prior in the poet's mind to the substantive details; as in the glimmering landscape,' the 'solemn stillness,' the 'lowing herd,' the ploughman's weary way,' the drowsy tinklings of the distant fold;'-all these circumstances of evening contrasting with the breezy call of the incense-breathing
morn that follows. And this is what Gray meant by expression; it is the poet's mode of viewing things, which all the world might see if it had the gift; -the act of seeing them suggesting the appropriate sounds by which the same impression may best be conveyed to others. There are, indeed, some impressions common to us all, that cannot be defined but by some one gifted with this power. If we attempt to put the following into harsh or mere commonplace wording, the thought is gone. It needs all the poet's skill, his mastery over rhythm and measure, to enable us to see, or rather to feel it as he does:
'For who to dumb forgetfulness a prey,
gifted lines, and a masterpiece of expression, which are the fruit of many a melancholy, sorrowful hour; without which sad experience the slow dragging length and artful alliteration of that last line would never have forced us to pause and shudder on the brink of the grave, and look back with him on the cheerful day, whether we will or no. It was this one point of sympathy -a constitutional melancholy-which compelled Johnson, in spite of his prejudices, to own that this was true poetry, and to recognise the poet's gift of looking before and after.' One_afterthought there is in the Elegy, and that a curious It bears on Gray's political opinions, which were not so decidedly Whig as we might suppose from the passage as it stands. The names of Milton and Cromwell were supplied afterwards. It originally stood,
'Some mute inglorious Tully here may rest,
Some Cæsar guiltless of his country's blood.' However some may be disposed to quarrel with the stanza as they are familiar with it, no one, we should think, can really wish these old Romans back again where they look so very much out of place.
The Elegy enjoyed an immediate popularity, which surprised its author, and speedily ran through eleven editions. It took a high stand at once, and has been a sort of chosen subject for comment and criticism ever since; for which its finish, and its fulness of meaning, make it well adapted. This very finish is a provocation to some minds. Lord Brougham, for instance, has counted the epithets, and quarrelled with the opening description of evening, because it took up more space than Dante's 'Era gia l'ora, and the six lines which follow. If Gray's detail tired him we give him leave to complain; but nothing can be more unreasonable than to circumscribe one poet to the measure of another when the object in view in each case is so absolutely
different. This objection, belonging to a busy man, in a busy age, was not, however, heard then; people did not grudge the time for reading it and musing upon it, and they thought it touched many a chord of feeling not heard before. But Gray's popularity in his Elegy did not serve him, as it ought, in recommending his two noble Pindaric Odes which followed a few years later. Noble they certainly are, though they do not touch the heart like the other. We, who know to our cost what obscure verse is, are amused to find the outcry that was then raised against the obscurity of these poems. Their author resented this more than he seems to have valued his former praises, though nothing connected with his own compositions affected him very deeply. The composure with which he bore a parody from the pen of Coleman, seems to have surprised his contemporaries, who were liable to get themselves into great heats, and forget their dignity on such occasions. Probably his slowness to publish these poems tended to this philosophy. "The Progress of Poesy' was written two years before it was printed, and the 'Bard' remained unfinished from 1755 to 1757, till the author was inspired by the visit to Cambridge of a blind Welsh Harper, of whom he says: Mr. Parry has been here, ' and scratched out such ravishing, blind harmony, such tunes ' of a thousand years old, with names enough to choke you, 'as have set all this learned body a-dancing, and inspired them ' with due reverence for Odikle' (or the little ode; this sort of nicknames to people and things was one of Gray's humours) whenever it shall appear. Mr. Parry, you must know, it was, that has put Odikle in motion again." They were published in 1757, eight years after the Elegy,' and were, comparatively, coldly received. This is his answer to Mr. Hurd's acknowledgment of his copy:
Stoke, Aug. 25, 1757.
'Dear Sir,-I do not know why you should thank me for what you had a right and title to; but attribute it to the excess of your politeness, the more so, because no one else has made me the same compliment. As your acquaintance in the University (you say) do me the honour to admire, it would be ungenerous in me not to give them notice that they are doing a very unfashionable thing; for all people of condition are agreed not to admire or even understand. One very great man writing to an acquaintance of his and mine, says that he had read them seven or eight times, and that now when he next sees me, he shall not have above thirty questions to ask. Another peer believes that the last stanza of the second ode relates to King Charles the First and Oliver Cromwell. Even my friends tell me they do not succeed, and write me many topics of consolation on that head; in short, I have heard of nobody but a player, and a Doctor of Divinity, (Garrick and Dr. Warburton,) that profess their esteem for them. Oh yes! a lady of quality, a friend of Mason's, who is a great reader; she knew there was a compliment to Dryden, but never suspected there was anything said about Shakspeare or Milton, till it was explained to her; and wishes there had been titles prefixed, to tell what they were about.'— Mitford, p. 95.